The grandiose politics of the Nobel Peace Prize

As the Nobel Prize week unfurled, I was only concerned about the Literature and Economics prizes, for those are areas which are closer to my heart than many others. The other areas on which the prize is awarded does not usually pique so much of interest but I do track the winners and their contributions. Over the past several years, many distinguished men and women have graced the prize for their impeccable contributions to the disciplines of Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Peace and Economics. I had a hunch the deliverance of the Literature and Economics prizes this year would be surprising affairs. My hunch came true but it turned out that for the first time in quite a few years, I would pay a great deal of attention to the Peace prize.

Last Friday, as the news of the Peace prize winners trickled in, I was in high spirits that children’s rights activists had won albeit I had never taken notice of Kailash Satyarthi before. Malala Yousufzai was a more prominent name thanks to the antics of Pakistan and Taliban.  During the course of that day and later during the night, I comprehended several notes, news items and anecdotes on Satyarthi and his Bachpan Bachao Andolan which was doing a first-class effort in trying to nullify child labor, a derisive evil. Apparently, Satyarthi and his team have saved more than 80,000 children from the bonds of slavery so far, which is very creditable.

There is no doubt Satyarthi and Yousufzai are worthy winners of the prize, not just together but even standalone. Nevertheless, the fact that they won the prize together raises a few eyebrows. In the lead up to the announcement of the prize, the relationship between India and Pakistan was following a tumultuous course and probably entwined towards an ugly war. The Nobel Peace prize committee members were very sentient of this and by deciding to award the prize to an Indian and a Pakistani, they have doubtless conjured antagonism among the fundamentalist/terrorist groups who do not fancy a seamless India – Pakistan relationship. It is highly improbable that the religious undertone in the award would be disregarded by these fundamentalist groups. Satyarthi’s aspiration to work with Malala in the future is also prone to add to the pressure in the region.

Yet another intriguing facet is the presence of Islamic fundamentalist groups such as ISIS in Norway and Sweden. It is extensively whispered that two Norwegians occupy leadership positions in ISIS and report directly to its supreme leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Curiously, a group calling itself Ansar Al Sunna, which could be an offshoot of ISIS for all we know, threatened in August 2014 that if a section of Oslo was not converted into a Sharia compliant nation, they would launch an attack on Norway far more barbaric than the 9/11 attacks. Their eyes are towards the area of Gronland, which is extremely close to the heart of the Norwegian Government. Gronland is only a tip of the iceberg and there certainly is an ostentatious vision behind all this.

It would also be interesting to pay attention to Anders Behring Breivik’s dastardly attack on Oslo on 22nd July, 2011, which consumed the lives of 77 people. Remarkably, it is believed that Breivik is anti-Islam but nothing could be far from the truth. The Breivik Manifesto talks about collaboration with Islamic terrorists and it would appear that ISIS /Ansar Al Sunna are merely following in the footsteps of Breivik!

When this year’s Nobel Peace prize jury, some of whom I suspect are clandestinely ISIS/Ansar Al Sunna members, awarded the prize to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousufzai, they were really arousing the Pakistani community in Norway and particularly Oslo (they are one of the largest migrant communities in this Scandinavian nation). For a staunch Pakistani extremist, there is nothing that resents him/her than the mention of India. This instigation of anger among the Oslo Pakistanis, some of whom may already be members of Ansar Al Sunna, is a cunning ploy to lure them to attack Indians in Norway (only about a third of Pakistanis but greatly increasing in number) and thereby try to upset the apple-cart of the Indo-Pak dialogue and veer it into a more overwrought relationship. Such an attack would also bring the Indian and Pakistani governments into the picture, thereby creating a huge awareness on the ISIS/Ansar Al Sunna Islamic state propaganda in Scandinavia and perhaps other regions of the world. The Taliban, Al Qaeda, the Hisbul Mujahideen and the likes of Breivik would only be too pleased to sponsor and further this cause for a larger Islamic occupation of the world.

This is the grandiose vision of ISIS/Ansar Al Sunna. There are news reports about a merger between Taliban and ISIS as I write this. All this could connote only one thing – an imposing Islam Fundamentalists Axis (IFA) vs. the rest of the world led by the US, UK, India, Japan and Australia. The Nobel Peace prize committee may have just implanted the seeds for this. Only the wheels of time will reveal to us what is in store for humankind.

The questions we should consider (Book Review – The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng)

War stories are inherently captivating. It offers great insight into the characters and their tribulations through war time. It is not an easy period to live in, more so when you are constantly threatened by the prospect of losing your life and that of your loved ones to a brutality that only man could have invented. The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng is a war story. But it is more than that as well. The Malaysian author’s debut work is a beautifully crafted sculpture of prose and an emotional roller coaster to boot. This one will definitely tug at the heartstrings of anyone who lays his/her hands on and reads the 500 odd pages of the book.

The story is mainly set in Penang, Malaysia (then Malaya) during the period 1939-1945 and then a time period 50 years after the war ended. It traces the trials of Philip Hutton, the son of a wealthy businessman in Penang, and his relationship with a man seemingly innocuous but, as Philip comes to realize later on in life, keeping a secret so powerful and unimaginable that it uproots his very own conscience. The man was Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat who befriends Philip after acquiring a plot of land that belonged to Philip’s family. Their relationship evolves into a strong bond of friendship and Endo teaches Philip the art of aikido which only strengthens the bond they already shared.

The Second World War changes everything. Japan invades Malaya and soon the lives of Philip and his family are turned upside down. A realization shocks Philip to the core questioning the allegiance he had towards Endo. He chooses to remain steadfast, much to the chagrin of his entire family. In a bid to save his family, Philip works for the Japanese. Japan gradually begins to lose its superior position and the Allied forces are able to force the Japanese out of Malaya. But heartbreakingly, Philip loses his entire family in the process.

The author has used the character of Michiko Murakami, through whom the story winds down memory lane, to great effect. Her story is as endearing as Philip’s and equally tragic. She is a strong lady, and even her weakened physique cannot wither her resolve to meet and understand Philip as well as learn the account of his relationship with Endo. Philip is initially taciturn towards Michiko but gradually warms up to her and eventually realizes why she wanted to meet him. The depiction is brilliant, to say the least.

I cannot stop thinking about Istana; the house where Philip and his family once lived together and which later became Philip’s own home after all had ended. The below passage is one of my favorites – “Its graceful lines and history touched me strongly and I loved exploring every part of it, sometimes even, despite my fear of heights, climbing up to the roof through a door in the attic. I would sit and look out over the landscape of the roof, like a tickbird on the back of a water buffalo, and feel the house beneath me”. The vivid portrayal of the fountain on the courtyard will forever be etched in my memory. So is the case with his family – Noel Hutton, the father, William and Edward, the older brothers and Isabel, the elder sister. Interestingly, Philip becomes closer to them only after meeting Endo!

Philip’s befriending of Kon, his meeting with his maternal grandfather after a very long time, his relationship with Aunt Yu Mei, his chauffeur Uncle Lim who is a part of a tragic sub plot that involves the death of his daughter and her husband during the Japanese occupation are all masterly recounted by Eng, in what I consider his masterpiece.

There are quite a few incidents that leave you misty eyed such as this one that occurred towards the end of the Japanese occupation in Malaya, as the British fighter planes flew in across the sea. Philip had used six tins to paint ‘a rather rudimentary Union Jack, with its red, blue and white lines’, on the sloping roof of Istana. He was indefatigably British but at the same time could not disown Endo who was peacefully sleeping in that very home at the same time!

And of course, who can overlook the Nagamitsu sword? It plays a very central part in the novel and one can comprehend the tensions that it evokes whenever it appears during the course of the story. A sword is a powerful instrument. It can be as much an instrument of love and belonging as it can be of hatred.

Do we ever mull over why we meet people? Why do we take a path which is diverse from the ones others follow? We come across many people in our lives. Some of them stay on for the rest of our lives while others have the briefest of contacts with us. No matter what, there is a strong purpose and destiny behind our interaction with people, though we may not be conscious of this at the time, but is probable to be revealed to us later in the course of our journey called life. This is the one important lesson that I’m taking away from the novel. To quote Philip towards the end of the novel – “While I now accept that the course of our lives has been set down long before our births, I feel that the inscriptions that dictate the directions of our lives merely write out what is already in our hearts; they can do nothing more”. This sums up my feeling exactly after reading this treasure of a book; this has to rank among the top of the best narratives I have had the opportunity to read until this moment in my life.